When I use the term 3T, I am not referring to that once famed, extended Jackson-clan boy band, who soaked up a fleeting moment of glory in the mid-90s. (If this rings no bells whatsoever, then you are obviously a fair bit younger than I am.)
Today, when I say 3Ts, I refer to Trip Advisor, Travel Blogs and Twitter, three forces that have been instrumental in helping me arrange my recent travel adventures, particularly blogs (not that I’m biased!) Having booked Cuba right at the last minute, planning neurotically was too arduous a strategy so instead, I glimpsed at a few websites and put out a few tweets and these were the bars and restaurants that kept recurring as some of the best in Havana, all of which can be sampled in a three night stay.
La Bodeguita del Medio
In the heart of the old town, this bar is unmissable to most tourists, having gathered itself a reputation for being Hemingway’s favourite spot for a Mojito and one of his most frequented establishments in Havana. Yes, there are almost as many tourists in here as there are Mojitos and if you go in the evening, you’ll have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a seat but it is worth seeing despite all this to sample this piece of celebrity history and to see whether you agree with the renowned author’s tip off that this really is Havana’s best Mojito.
A small informal place with rustic decor, you’ll spot the Mojito glasses already lined up with mint when you walk in. They know it’s what you’ll order. You know it too. The walls are awash with Hemingway paraphernalia and unsurprisingly, expect to pay well above the odds for drinks here. For those wondering how I fared, the Virgin Mojito was light and refreshing with a pervasive mintiness. Tip – head here in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and bag yourself a seat.
Once your palate tires of mint and rum, you’ll find this new Paladar just a short walk away and if you’re sensible, you’ll book ahead to secure a table. In fact, at the time of publishing this post, this restaurant is currently the number 1 rated Havana restaurant on Trip Advisor.
Paladars (privately run restaurants by the self-employed) are little hubbubs of character, local food and proud owners. And this one has all the ingredients for a successful venture – excellent value, generous portions of traditional Cuban food and an intimate, homely interior.
Apologies for the less-than-ideal photography – the lighting wasn’t ideal and I’m a travel blogger not a food blogger so that’s the excuse I’m going with 😀
We had grilled fish and chicken, both of which came with plantain chips, a side salad and a large portion of sweet, wholesome black beans with rice. If you find the heat suffocating, the healing hands of the frozen Mojito will resuscitate you.
Paladar La Guarida
A 10-15 minute walk away from the Old Town, this Paladar is clearly-signposted but to avoid missing it, you’ll need to have your wits about you, as it is on the 2nd floor of a derelict building so it may be easy to miss. With some fantastic fish on offer, we went for local specialties including the Mahi Mahi fish with orange sauce and dried Yucca and sweet potato sides.
This one is a little more pricey. I had a creamy lemon tart for dessert, which was refreshing in the summer heat, although similar to what I’ve had at home. The “ice cream surprise” that Pumpkin ordered was in fact a scoop served inside fresh pineapple, not entirely the surprise he was hoping for (a giant ice cream sundae!)
It has been at least a minute since we discussed cocktails and in Cuba, this is one rum-free minute too many. Hemingway indeed had a soft spot for his beloved La Bodeguita when it came to Mojitos but I was much more inclined towards his penchant for this bar, whose name literally translates to “Little Florida”, where he found his favourite Daiquiri.
A dimly-lit, elegant cocktail bar shrouded in scarlet and staffed by waistcoated bar-tenders, this epitomises the sassy and seductive side of Cuba. Rumour has it a world record for the largest Daiquiri ever made took place here. You can also eat in the formal restaurant at the back.
Anyone heading to Havana will invariably hear about this historic and opulent hotel, the city’s most famous and the scene of many a Mafia-meeting, Castro speeches and celebrity spots. We decided not to stay here, as it’s actually quite far away from most of Havana’s key attractions but it’s worth a visit to stroll around the glitzy, long lobby and to spot the photos of Castro with Robert Redford. End your visit with a walk through the lobby onto the ground floor gardens, where you can stop off for a drink or snack at the outdoor cafe with an ocean view. The backdrop of the seafront promenade, the Malecon, with colourful vintage cars swiftly crossing your vision could leave you sleepily gazing under the Cuban sun for hours.
Havana’s Street Food
Last year, I told you all of my love of the street food in Rio de Janeiro and whilst this isn’t a restaurant per se, Havana’s road-side cuisine certainly stopped me in my tracks a couple of times. First, we were tapped on the shoulder (as is often the case in Cuba but you just need to be friendly, understanding and polite and you’ll generally be left alone – you can find lots more tips for Cuba here)
The lady in question was carrying a basket full of paper cones with these snacks in them. I wasn’t sure what they were but they looked like thin, fried crispy snacks with a dusting of icing sugar and after a morning of walking around, I was peckish enough to try them out.And although I’m not usually one to crave hot snacks in tropical climates, the temptation of these freshly-made Churros was too much to surpass whilst Pumpkin went for the more instinctive option in the midday sun by reaching straight for the street-side ice-cream served in a coconut shell. I must admit I was a little wary about his choice from a hygiene point of view as my street food consumptions are usually limited to hot, cooked dishes but either it was safe to eat or he has a gut of steel but either way, it didn’t seem to do him any harm.
Have you ever visited Havana? What was your impression of the food?